We’re often known, as volunteers in the Peace Corps, to be an eclectic bunch with various backgrounds. Engineers, business people, biologists, botanists, disaster management specialists, and journalists arm the ranks of Peace Corps Peru. Of course, we still have our (super) generalists, who have a slightly less technical and professional resume but still fit the bill (and job description). And while the focus for Peace Corps is to fill x amount of spots with certain professionals, generalists with different skill sets (public speaking, construction) still make up a large chunk of volunteers in most countries. But whether skilled or not, with a Master’s, BA, or whatever, I propose that an important skill for the Peace Corps (and often lacking in many volunteers) is the ability to draw.
Even just general doodlers can be an asset to many programs. Why? There’s a need to step back and talk about education and literacy first. Well, we generally work in impoverished communities which tend to have poor education rates. While level of education achieved can vary, largely the population is under educated. Especially in communities where adults only have elementary or partial secondary school completed and have spent a large amount of time out of school, reading is a limited activity. Reading for pleasure, beyond the Bible, is almost unheard of and most reading is just basic forms and signing off. For the volunteer, most likely a college graduate and used to reading articles/papers/books, reading a pamphlet is nothing. However, if a volunteer hands a 40 year old woman, possibly 30 years+ out of school, full of words and few illustrations there’s a good chance the intended message won’t come across. It might be intimidating, or at the very best minimally effective. The same while giving presentations or talks to the community. It does little good to fill a papelote (large poster papers) with words…even as we learn using Power Point – too many words leads to a) the person overly concentrating on trying to read everything on the paper and not paying attention to you b) not read anything.
However, some cleverly animated paper presentations and handouts can go a longer way than any kind of word material. People are more likely to pay more attention to the drawing, to have it stick in their mind and find a message in it. That’s not to say it can be without text, but the main message should be in the drawing. What’s more effective, more striking: a picture of someone not covering their nose while sneezing and snot going everywhere or reading ‘cover your nose when you sneeze’? Images tend to stay with us longer. Even a simple sticker by the sinks remind us to wash our hands. Simply, images are more effective than printed words when dealing with things like health promotion and general non-formal teaching methods.
So, if you’re looking to join the Peace Corps, but don’t necessarily feel like you qualify or if the recruiter may have doubts, try pulling this card out of your sleeve. I can’t really guarantee it’ll work, but it couldn’t hurt your chances. (PS: Let me know if it works!)